Gustavo Aguilar is a brilliant percussionist who grew up in Brownsville, where Texas meets Mexico. He now lives in New York, runs an ensemble call soNu and has located himself in music at a point where composition and improvisation geed into one another in extraordinary ways. Getting there, he has collaborated closely with defiantly heterodox musicians including Iancu Dumitrescu, Annea Lockwood, Anthony Braxton, and Wadada Leo Smith. Unsettled on an old Sense of Place features six of his own pieces, and it's a fabulously vivid experience. Xochicalco, dedicated to Mexican composer Julio Estrada, might be the soundtrack to a fever dream, its hallucinatory electroacoustics conjured up spontaneously by soNu, plus harpist Anne LeBaron and viola player Mary Oliver, in response to Aguilar's verbal cues and after preparatory listening to selections of Mexican music. Contrafactum For Scelsi is Aguilar solo, playing eclectic guitar as hand percussion - popping harmonics and pummeled clusters, his memory of Mexican serenades conflated with awareness of Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi's guitar piece Ko-Tha. RoKaMaYoHa is a stunning dramatic imagining of Japanese kabuki theatre, centered in kabuki's recurrent theme of revelation through sudden, unexpected noise. It's shrill and strange, with Nina Eidsheim's penetrating voice embedded in processed whistles and woodwinds.
Dirac's Theory is an intimate dialogue with snare drum: the percussion and percussionist drawing out all kids of unexpected nuance between themselves. With Suprachiasmatic Nuclei, Aguilar's declared intention is to address our neurological pacemakers; in practice this means 15 minutes of steady descent from well-defined articulation into ragged yet compulsive white noise. Wendall's History concludes the program, setting text by poet Wendell Barry against a glistening glockenspiel backdrop. Gustavo Aguilar is himself a defiantly unorthodox musician -- the kind we need -- and this is a wonderful CD.